Why industry conferences are essential — and how to justify their cost

Today’s technology enables us to connect with each other like never before. In the business world, tools such as virtual meetings, podcasts and webinars enable us to conduct meetings and view training programs with farflung associates from our desktops. So, it’s often tempting to skip an in-person conference to save money as well as time.

But before you chuck that conference brochure in the trash, you might want to reconsider the intangible benefits that just can’t be gained through a monitor.

Beyond the educational sessions they provide, conferences afford the unparalleled opportunity to:

  • Network with your peers.
  • Learn industry trends.
  • Discover the latest technologies and evaluate different vendor partners.
  • Renew your excitement about your work and career.
  • See your current and prospective clients in one location.

Networking is almost always the top reason for anyone to attend a conference. But it is often the toughest to quantify and thus justify to management. To assess the value of a conference, you can start with the conference attendee lists. Where else are you going to meet this many industry leaders?

Now that you know you want to attend the conference, how do you justify its cost to those managing your department’s budget?

Exhibitors. As a sponsor or exhibitor, it is easiest to count the number of leads or sales needed to equal the cost. I would argue the benefits of exhibiting far exceed that simple calculation. Review the list of attendees’ titles and companies from past conferences. How many staff hours would it take to contact the same number of prospects as well as existing clients? How much would it cost to see each of these clients and prospects separately?

For example, many conferences have demonstration rooms. These are usually located near the conference sessions. Many of these include basic audio-visual equipment and schedules are included in the conference materials. At SIA conferences, we have Ideas in Action sessions that allow you to showcase your product.

When I was an exhibit manager at a previous company, we arranged to have three workshop demos at one conference at which we were exhibiting. We used those workshops as the focus of the event for our activities. All our staff were given invitations with the demo times and locations to pass out. Every one of our sessions had at least 30 prospects show up. I was sitting in the back of one of the demo rooms when our product manager walked up grinning ear to ear, “We don’t have enough sales managers to spend this much quality time with this many prospects in a year. We are doing this right now in 30 minutes. Let’s sign up to host twice as many workshops next year.”

Attendees. The argument may not be as easy for attendees, but most conference organizers have documents to help you justify your travel and registration costs. Many even provide justification letter templates that you can just fill out. Here at SIA, our marketing team has a justification letter for our CWS Summit conference that attendees can customize to argue their case to attend.

It is easy to create your own by listing the estimated costs and benefits of attending the conferences. Always include the conference agenda and indicate the sessions that you plan to attend. Do not forget to highlight the session topics and how they relate to current projects. Sometimes the correlation may seem obvious, but others may need further explanation.

Whether going to a conference as an attendee or sponsor, these events can bring great value to your company and career. And it can be an efficient use of time and resources. It’s the best way to see multiple clients and prospects while learning about industry trends in one location.